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Could Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan spark a war between China and the US? — Analysis

American ‘salami tactics’ have brought tensions to the brink, and the senior Democrat’s trip could light the fuse

By Glenn DiesenProfessor, University of South-Eastern Norway. He is also an editor for Russia in Global Affairs. Follow him Twitter @glenndiesen.

Recent years have seen the US withdraw unilaterally from key security agreements, triggering a rapid escalation. The Americans have been on a path towards war with Iran and Russia. Washington has now begun to abandon the One China Policy, which gradually moves them toward an accidental war. Beijing warns of a new military response to the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s planned Taiwan trip.

Policy of strategic ambiguity and The One China Policy

In the 1970s, China and America established diplomatic relations. Washington changed its diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei. Washington committed to the One China Policy. It states there is only one China. Taiwan is part of that China. However, the US is concurrently strengthening Taiwan’s ability to act as an independent state, by providing weapons.

For four decades peace between China and America has relied on strategic ambiguity about Taiwan’s status.

Throughout that time, the US and China have been engaged in a “deterrence dilemma.” Washington has strived to prevent Beijing from forcefully reunifying with Taiwan, by supplying the island with arms, while China makes Taiwan think twice about formally seceding, by threatening military intervention. China’s military might has increased in strength, and the US is now attempting to stop it from intervening.




The US has been reckless with its One China Policy management in the past. However, Washington has started to intentionally hollow out this policy in recent years. Beijing is threatening the US’s global security strategy, which was built on primacy. Washington has no intention of accommodating a multipolar order. Time appears to be on China’s side as its influence in the region will only increase. In contrast, America’s power is declining, which creates incentives for changing its posture towards China, and the Taiwan issue.

Barack Obama’s administration had announced their pivot to Asia 10 years ago. This involved moving American military assets towards East Asia to try to limit China. Donald Trump was his successor and launched an economic war on Beijing. He also began using the One China Policy to bargain with Beijing. The US appears to have abandoned all of its obligations under President Joe Biden.

Beijing is concerned about the ongoing effort to dismantle the One China Policy, in light of the US’s reluctance and refusal to adjust to multipolar world. This will also affect relations between the two great powers.

The One China Policy must be rescinded

US military cooperation with Taiwan has become more frequent and overt, and Washington has pushed for expanded Taiwanese representation in the international system – for example by supporting Taiwan’s participation in the UN system. Official exchanges restrictions with Taipei were eased and more US officials visited Taiwan in support of Taiwanese sovereignty, according to some US legislators. American media and think tank have become more vocal in calling for Taiwanese secession and denouncing One China Policy. Biden repeatedly stated that the US will defend Taiwan in the event of an attack by China over the last months, which breaks down the decades-long policy ambiguity about how the US would react.


Taiwan media makes prediction on Pelosi visit

These incidents occurred in a period of increasing military and economic rivalry as well as wider attempts to destabilise China internally. Washington insists that it does not seek confrontation with Beijing but is simply standing for American values. This is consistent in the larger American concept of hegemony wherein belligerent foreign policies are used to promote global dominance. However, this can be framed as an benevolent support for democracy.

Nancy Pelosi is now tipped to make a visit to Taiwan this week – the first trip by an official of her rank in decades. What should Beijing do to interpret this? Are Pelosi’s actions merely an act of rogueness in the US? Or is it part of broader US salami tactics to gradually seperate Taiwan from China.

Intentional war

Beijing warned that Pelosi would face the worst consequences if she follows through on her threats to travel to Taiwan. Many believe Beijing is lying to avoid war. The risk of waging war against the US because of a Washington official’s trip does not seem rational or proportionate.

The nature of salami tactics, however is to present all responses as unreasonable and outlandish. These tactics involve limited, but consistent advancements in order to make new realities. The slow pace of revival can avoid escalation, eliminate all opposition from enemies and allies, and any response could be described as either disproportionate or unprovoked. How accidental war begins is through the political dishonesty displayed by salami tactics.



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